January 1, 2007

Faith without love?

During worship this past First Day at the monthly meeting, an older Friend rose and shared with us that he is struggling with the idea of faith.

"Has faith become a meaningless virtue?" he asked. "Because if George W. Bush and I both are labeled as people of faith, as 'believers,' then what does 'faith' or 'being a believer' mean?"
Later during worship, when the meeting moved into its customary worship-sharing mode for those items that were still weighing on Friends' hearts but had not risen to the level of vocal ministry, a number of other Friends spoke about their own wrestling with what 'having faith' means.

I was surprised at my own inward stirrings. What I was hearing from these Friends was running counter to my own experience of how God was covering me just then, that we are required to love and not just have faith.

I found myself unexpectantly reflecting on these two texts, the first of which I readily understood the connection; the second left me perplexed:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.
--1 Corinthians 13:1-3 (NIV)

"I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."
--Matthew 19:16-24 (NIV)
I am still caught off guard when parts of Scripture rise for me in worship. I am so new to the Bible; I've never read either the Hebrew Scriptures or the Christian texts straight through.

Sometimes I fear I only look at those parts of the text that reflect back to me my own thoughts, feelings, and concerns. This particular morning, though, I began to worry that our meetings could be doing a better job nurturing Friends whose faith is languishing or whose faith seems to be rooted in shallow or sandy soil.

This particular morning, my heart turned toward the questions,
What IS faith without love?
If faith without love is so unpleasant and undesirable, then is it more important to have love; to have love without faith...?
I know myself to have experienced and to have expressed "faith without love." It is an aggressive, righteous expression of faith, a statement that says "I'm right and you're wrong." I have not liked myself when I have known myself to have come from that loveless-but-faithful place.

But what about experiencing and expressing love even when one doesn't have faith...? I have known those times as well. And somehow that seems... closer... to what God intended. It reminds me of the story of the Good Samaritan.

As for the "eye of the needle" quote, I am reminded of how hard it is to give up my material wealth and my wealth based on what I want, in order that I keep my "eye on the prize," to keep God at the center of my life. ...Faith in a life filled with earthly riches certainly confuses my priorities!

Oooh, I sense a movement within me that feels very, very big. And I recognize I am not ready to look at it yet. So I will stop here and see how these questions and the Spirit might exercise me.


RELATED POST: The Creeds I've Known - Being Faithful, Being Loving


Pascale Soleil said...

I don't know how I first came across your blog, but ever new post moves me and gives me food for thought.

Thanks so much, and have a blessed New Year!

Liz Opp said...

Well, Pascale, thanks so much for taking the time to tell me that you've been reading The Good Raised Up. It's humbling to know that complete strangers are finding some spiritual food here.

Have a blessed New Year as well. And I wonder how your own blog and any other blog-reading has been shaping your personal journey. I hope it's been fruitful for you.


P.S. I like the post you created for the "year in review," by including the first sentence of the first post for each month in 2006. Cool idea!

Anonymous said...

It seems to me that we are called not to faith in the abstract, but (in words that Luke puts in Paul's mouth), "... faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." (Acts 20:21, KJV). One can have faith in many sorts of things, and even in people - but the faith that justifies, that puts us in right relationship with God, is faith in God made manifest - recognizing that God is manifest in many distinct ways. "He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love." (I John 4:8).

Seen from this (Christian) perspective, faith and love are not separate things, but are inseparable: we are called to faith in God who is love, and thus our faith is in the Power of love over all. Faith without love is indeed faith without God - and as the apostle said, that is a fragile, hollow thing.

Paul writes that faith without love is empty because our faith is made complete in love and by love. Whether we are called a person of faith or a believer is less important than whether we are doers of the Word as well as hearers, as James wrote. Faith is not a meaningless virture, to answer the first Friend's question; but it is the object of our faith that gives it virtue.


Paul L said...

llw has it right, I think.

"Faith" is not an abstract virtue, or, rather, it is not virtuous in the abstract, but only when the faith is in someone who is faithful, who is trustworthy (see below).

Re love: The context in which Paul says that the greatest of faith, hope and love is love, was a discussion of the church in Corinth's controversy over speaking in tongues; some could, some couldn't, and those who could were apparently lording over those who couldn't, saying that the gift indicated some special favor with God.

Paul then writes the beautiful ch. 12 explaining how there are many gifts but only one Lord, etc., and then in the even more beautiful ch 13 says that if your faith & hope & speaking in tongues don't produce love, it's hollow and useless. The ability to love then becomes the necessary test of the authenticity of the gifts.

I was at the same meeting you described. I wanted to say that the first Friend who spoke was confusing "faith" with "belief," a well-known and much-discussed theological mistake.

Faith is better understood as synonomous (sp?) with "trust." You can "believe" in God -- i.e., that he exists -- but this is ultimately an opinion, a verbal constructions of perceived reality but without any saving power.

But you have "faith" in God only if you put your trust in him, rely on him, live in relationship with him, etc. (The same analogy can be made to spouses or partners in a marriage.) When the object of your faith proves to be trustworthy, you can't help but to love as he loves you.

In the context of last 1st day's meeting, George W B may "believe" in God,and the belief may indeed be sincere, but he clearly puts his faith in walls and towers and military power and other idols.

There may be, and of course is, a seed of goodness in him that knows better, and he may even be aware of it, but the prophets are here (in the Bible, and alive today) to speak to that seed, to help it point out to him that he is acting faithlessly and to call him to repentence, which is to turn away from the idols.

(The same can be said of all of us, to one extent or another, the only difference being that we may believe in different idols -- reason, ego, middle-class respectibility -- and that some are at the point we can say so out loud.)

Liz Opp said...

llw - Thanks for taking the time to add your reflections here. I find a good deal of resonance with the affirmation that "faith and love are not separate things, but are inseparable... Faith without love is indeed faith without God..." My sense is that you have captured the nugget that I was reaching for.

And while I was still chewing on the part about the faith "that puts us in right relationship wtih God is faith in God made manifest...," I found I was helped by Paul L's subsequent comment.

Paul L - I was hoping you'd drop by and throw in your two cents! You identified something that had occurred to me as well, namely the possibility that the original Friend "was confusing 'faith' with 'belief.'" In addition, your analogy of having faith in one's partner within a committed relationship also helps me, especially in light of some of what llw had written.


Paul Copeland said...

Dear Liz,

Thank you for your post on Faith and love. I grapple with the concept of faith and what it means to myself and others. For me I find faith inextricably linked to the concept of works or deeds, which is why I so often look to the Epistle of James in the Bible. I agree faith with love is the key. Many I meet who profess faith certainly don't show love though, nor good deeds to go with it.


Anna said...

I enjoyed reading this article very, very much. Where the article starts, with the question raised by the older Friend is particularly interesting to me. I have found that one of the hardest things in the world to deal with, when you consider yourself a person of faith, is to have to encounter and deal with another person who also calls themselves a person of faith yet does and says things that are completely antithetical of what you believe and hold to truth. I was moved and intrigued by your response of faith with love. I agree with both you and llw’s post that faith without love is meaningless and that if we believe in a loving God; faith is love, and love, faith. The only part I didn't quite understand was your use of the quote from Matthew. I have long found this particular quote thought provoking and rather troublesome, but I don't really understand how it relates to the topic at hand, if you could explain it to me I would love to hear from you.

Peace and Joy,

Anonymous said...

What I don't see a place for in the comments above is faithfulness without belief (though I think Liz touched on it in her original post). Or, perhaps more accurately, faithfulness with a different set of beliefs, beliefs which make no assumptions about another reality beyond the reality of feeling and thinking creatures living in the physical world. Is such a thing possible?

Paul, correct me if I'm wrong, but I think you are describing faith not as something completely distinct from belief, but faith as belief plus something more. As you put it, "...you have "faith" in God only if you put your trust in him, rely on him, live in relationship with him..." This seems to imply belief in God. Does it not?

What if faithfulness is understood as a way of living regardless of belief, where one seeks to live in loving relationship with one's fellow creatures and the world simply because it seems the best way to live, completely aside from any presumptions about a realm beyond the realm of life in the physical world?

This is the closest I can come. Will it do? Is it faith?

Liz Opp said...

Paul Copeland - Thanks for dropping by and for the mention of James' epistle. I am thinking that it will soon be my time to take a look at it...

For now, though, I find I am helped to slow way down when I recognize that I have the urge to act on something at a time when I don't feel love or compassion. With that recognition, I am often able to discipline myself to wait out the urge and reconsider what it is I want to pursue, or await the time when I do feel love or something akin to it (e.g. curiosity, meekness)...

Anna - Like you, I was puzzled by the rising of the Matthew quote during that particular time of worship. So I really can't explain how that quote relates, at least not completely.

The only thing that has clarified itself for me is that being faithful is difficult, period. Whether we have wealth or not, whether we feel love or not, whether we believe or not--being meek, being humble, having mercy, and being true to God is a difficult thing.

Thanks for visiting.


David Korfhage said...

Responding to James: It seems to me that faith in the sense that Paul was talking about, where it is equivalent to trust, implies some kind of belief. It at least implies a belief in some one or some thing that we can trust--presumably, we trust him/her/it to make sure things work out OK (though that may involve giving up our usual standards for "OK"). Whether that has to be "God" as understood in theistic traditions, I'm not sure. The dao of Daoism would probably qualify, for example. Perhaps you can also trust the material world to make things come out OK. But you have to believe that the world exists, and that you can trust it.

Adding also to what Paul said, I would say that faith, in the sense of trust, enables us to love not only God (because we trust him), but also other people. Since we trust that things will work out OK for us, we don't have to worry about ourselves, and are therefore free to care for other people.

Of course, that sounds so mechanical. Another way it's described is this: God loves us and it's such overwhelming and good that we can't help but share that love with others. Being loved, we want to love others. Not sure where that leaves love and faith.


Anonymous said...


You may have touched on the essential difference in my sense of faithfulness. To my mind, the deepest faithfulness is doing what seems right without regard to whether things will come out OK. Even if we will all lose everything (and I believe that we will, sooner or later), doing what is right matters, perhaps more than anything matters.

Perhaps most people need hope to live their lives faithfully. I have never been a hopeful person, so have tried to find a faith that can continue even in the absence of hope.

Liz Opp said...

James and David - I see that I missed an earlier comment by James, and I thank the two of you for carrying on.

I am most intrigued with this phrase from James:

"[The] deepest faithfulness is doing what seems right without regard to whether things will come out OK."

There is much about this statement that I unite with, even though James is a nontheist Friends and I am not.

My understanding is that Friends are called to live lives of deep faithfulness, and as Lloyd Lee wrote earlier, I see the two--faith and love--as inseparable.

What I see in James is a willingness to wrestle with the human, communal, and natural conditions in order to be faithful, to be loving.

What I know of myself is that I too wrestle with these same conditions--but James' experience and direct knowledge of the world restricts him from naming or believing in anything as God, while my own experience and direct knowledge of the same world opens me to, and affirms for me, the naming and believing in God.

That these two experiences coexist within Friends is a mystery that is unlikely to be solved, and it has been a part of my own journey to see these differences through a lens of Love. But it does not release me from the concern I have about how we make our faith explicit or how we sustain our identity as Friends.

Personally, I chalk it up to one of the miracles of God, that I cannot ever know or understand. My wordless reconciliation with the concept of nontheist Friends passes understanding. It just is.

There is more to be said--namely, about membership, accountability, and laboring with one another--but those topics are well beyond the scope of this post and its related comments.


Paul L said...

If I can resond to Jame's question here:

"Paul, correct me if I'm wrong, but I think you are describing faith not as something completely distinct from belief, but faith as belief plus something more. As you put it, '...you have "faith" in God only if you put your trust in him, rely on him, live in relationship with him...' This seems to imply belief in God. Does it not?"

No, I see a clear distinction between belief and faith, at least as the terms are used when discussing theology. They are different in kind, not in degree.

Belief is in the nature of an opinion, an intellectual way of understanding or knowing. In that sense, belief is always tentative and provisional, subject to correction and refinement.

Faith is an entirely different experience; it describes a relationship. It is not contingent or tentative. It is not a means of arriving at truth, it is what you do when you've found the truth. Faith is not simply believing in something very, very, very much.

In the words of the author of Hebrews: "Now faith is a well-grounded assurance of that for which we hope, and a conviction of the reality of things which we do not see." (Weymouth N.T.) (The word "conviction" in this translation is apt; it means, literally, "conquered by.") Hebrews 11 goes on to give a list of examples of people who had faith in what God told them even when they did not have any visible evidence -- belief -- that they were true.

So, to answer your question, if I have faith in God, doesn't that imply that I "believe" in God? In a superficial sense, of course it does, but no more than saying I have faith in my wife means that I must believe she exists.

RichardM said...

Friends who wrestle with their Christian heritage will come back to this question of the meaning of faith over and over. If Christians were to completely disappear from the liberal side of Quakerism such wrestling would come to a halt and much of value would be lost.

I've written about these issues before in my own blog but here's a pocket summary. The NT contains an account of the nature of faith in Paul's epistles and an account of Jesus' view of faith in the gospels. Those views are remarkably similar to each other and to the views of early Friends and are markedly different from the "faith = believing the basic tenets of Christian theology" version that causes so much grief and confusion. Jesus speaks of being sustained by invisible spiritual food and water which he identifies with doing the will of the Father who sent him. He says this food and water is within us and available to us. Similarly Paul holds out Abraham as an exemplar of faith. Abraham's story is that of a man who listens to God's crazy commands and obeys them. It is not the story of a dogmatist, especially not the story of someone who accepts Christian theology. To have faith is to listen and obey (the obey part is what connects faith and works)the direct and personal commands of God which often conflict with what our finite human reason tells us. Believing in the existence of the Father who is giving these commands obviously makes it easier to trust Him and not your own reason. But even that minimal belief isn't strictly necessary. At least it's not necessary to hold such a belief consciously. Personally I think that those who listen and obey always know on an unconscious level who is talking to them, but that's just my personal take on how the human mind works.

Robin M. said...

Dear Liz,

I didn't know you had changed your template - and apparently neither did my bloglines subscription.

I will have to go back and read the last couple weeks' worth of posts and comments - but I'm glad to see you writing here again!


Liz Opp said...

Hey, Robin -

I changed the template very recently (within 24 hours prior to getting your comment); I guess I needed a change of pace. I'm not sure why your RSS feed (or whatever it is) didn't tell you that I had updated the blog with a new post or two. Some things are better left to checking "the old fashioned way." smile

Hope we'll talk soon--


cubbie said...

i haven't read this whole discussion, because i'm getting toward the "overwhelmed by how long i've been staring at the computer" stage of things... but i've been thinking about faith and love and their importance, too. what i've kind of come to is that love is the important thing, if there is "ONE" important thing of the two... but that faith enriches, engages, and... does something else really amazing to love that might start with "en" but i don't know.

Liz Opp said...

Hey, Cubbie --

Thanks for taking the time to comment. I agree that the bottom line, IF we had to choose, is love: And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love. (1 Corinthians 13:13 NIV)

I know one Friend in particular who, when asked what, if anything, do the various branches of Quakerism have in common, answers with a single word:


I am beginning to believe it.